PC*Base #5 – Motherboards

The Motherboard is probably one of the most important choices you will make when buying PC parts. You plug all the parts into your motherboard, and the motherboard controls them all.  Back in the day these things were super complicated.  While they are more complex today as far as capabilities go, they have been made a lot simpler to use and assemble.

Motherboards have a lot of features and if you walk into a store and look at a box, you will see a lot of marketing speak that doesn’t mean anything.  It’s similar to looking at the TV section in a Best Buy or Wal-Mart.  All of the boxes you see will say a lot of things that they made up.  These things actually do things, but you shouldn’t buy a product based on companies BS marketing on the box.  Do your research ahead of time.

When doing your research be sure to keep in mind the form factor you are going for.  If you found a great m-ATX case that you want, do not look at standard ATX motherboards.  You will need to buy an m-ATX motherboard, or possibly an m-ITX motherboard if the case will support it as well.  Because I bought the m-ATX case, I bought an m-ATX motherboard to go along with it.

If your motherboard has certain quirks, they may annoy you until you decide to replace it, so make sure you do your research well and look up reviews before buying a product.  My biggest problem with my current PC is how long the boot process takes because motherboard goes through way to many checks before it starts booting windows.  The time it takes to boot is called its POST time.  When you are doing your research and looking at benchmarks, one of them will usually be POST time.

POST comparison times for motherboards.  My new board is the GA-Z77MX-D3H

There are things that will be completely standard on pretty much all motherboards.  It will have 2-6 slots for Ram, USB ports, video card slots, internal hard drive connections, and an Ethernet port for your internet connection.

So now that we got the similar things out of the way, let’s talk about the differences you will see in today’s motherboard, and what you should look for.

CPU Support – Basically this comes down to which company’s processor you will buy.  A motherboard will either support an Intel Processor or an AMD processor.  Intel processors are better in almost every aspect, but they are more expensive.  AMD tries to get you in based on price.  They aren’t bad processors, but they definitely aren’t as good.  Personally I think it’s worth the extra money to go with Intel. I’ve had less crashes, and blue screens with Intel machines, and I’ve had them last longer as well.

Wireless Support – I always recommend plugging in a computer instead of going wireless, but if you need wireless support, some motherboards have wireless built into them.  You can always buy a separate wireless USB stick later if you don’t think you need it right away.

Audio Output – Back in the day, to get audio output you would have needed to buy a separate sound card.  For years now motherboards have had built-in audio which is really nice.  The difference is how it outputs the audio.  I have 5.1 analog speakers for my sound system so I needed a motherboard that had connections to support it.  Some motherboards also have digital audio output through toslink/spdif, and HDMI if you want to connect your PC directly up to a TV.

Video Output – If you plan on getting a separate video card this won’t matter much to you.  The different options are VGA, DVI, HDMI, Display Port, and Thunderbolt.  If you have a current monitor and plan on keeping it, you should check to see what your monitor supports, and make sure your motherboard will support the same.  VGA, DVI, and HDMI are pretty standard on motherboards today.  Display Port and Thunderbolt are more for Apple computers.  If you plan on building a hackintosh you may want to look into boards with these ports.

Most motherboards are very similar in what they provide, so your instincts may make you want to buy a cheap motherboard.  I would suggest against it because the cheaper motherboards usually die quickly or have problems way more often.  Gigabyte is my manufacturer of choice.  Asus also makes very good motherboards, but they tend to be a lot more expensive with very little gain.  Your motherboard is going to be one of your most important purchases because changing it may lead to changing out everything.

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